PLM-Fueled Success Attracts Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Hendrick Motorsports

By Doug Bartholomew Print this article Print

Think it's all engine parts and mechanics that keep Hendrick Motorsports at the top of NASCAR? Product lifecycle management software is a key element to this team's success, and a draw for newest driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr.  

If there’s an obvious reason that Dale Earnhardt Jr. jumped ship to join Hendrick Motorsports, it’s that success breeds success. As Earnhardt Jr. has said, he wanted to be with a winner.

Today, as the days count down to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series season start Feb. 9 at the Daytona International Speedway, there’s no doubt that Earnhardt Jr., generally viewed as  NASCAR’s most popular driver, has signed with the best: Team Hendrick. With super-drivers Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon leading the pack, last year this team racked up 19 NASCAR victories, and over 40 finishes in the top 5, more than any other team.  

But besides great drivers, what Earnhardt Jr.’s new team has is an owner who promotes a winning esprit in Rick Hendrick, and a product lifecycle management (PLM) system that helps make the goals of consistency and reliability a reality.

Read Baseline's in-depth look at PLM-software adoption in NASCAR: Hendrick Gets Up to Speed.

“We try to make every engine on our weekly build cycle the same to reduce variability, so that each engine performs the same,” says Jim Wall, Hendrick engineering director. ''

In 2007, Hendrick star Johnson and his team depended on Siemens’ Teamcenter PLM to help drive the mechanical dependability needed to finish nearly every race and rack up the most points of any driver to win his second consecutive Nextel Cup Championship.  

In the first weeks of Earnhardt Jr.’s transition to Hendrick, he spent much of his time getting used to his new team and testing his new car at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Certainly if his No. 88 Mountain Dew AMP/National Guard Chevrolet at Las Vegas Motor Speedway lives up to the reliability and durability standards set by Hendrick and enabled by its Siemens PLM (formerly UGS) system, Earnhardt Jr. has a successful racing season ahead.  

Being able to rely on a car’s performance being exactly the same week in and week out is critical to any race car driver’s success, and possibly more so to Earnhardt Jr., whose car suffered from mechanical faults that kept him out of contention in several races last season.

“There is a level of technical frustration that some of the other teams were going through, with engine failures and other problems,” says Jim Osborne, director of industry marketing for the Americas at Siemens PLM Software.  

With NASCAR’s shift to the Car of Tomorrow starting last year and continuing this season, Hendrick got a jump on the other teams by fully embracing the new automotive platform and using its PLM system to do so. The racing organization had the new car’s engine and chassis nailed from the opening gun. Hendrick cars blasted off the starting line, winning the first five Car of Tomorrow events, and eight of the first 15, while other teams struggled to get with the new program.  

The PLM system was key to Hendrick getting of the line so fast with the Car of Tomorrow shift. Hendrick staff entered all its data on each car, engine, component, and part into the new system.

“Being able to take the information as it came in and put it into the system from the start was a big benefit to us,” says Wall.

By contrast, a lot of data based on the earlier automotive platform had to be imported into the PLM from various other sources on the Hendrick campus. “It was nice to only have to file information one time and have it in the database ready to be shared and leveraged by the mechanics and the race teams,”  continues Wall. 

Hendrick’s engineering department uses the PLM system to track the entire bill of materials—essentially all parts and components—sued in its three families of engines used for race, test, and mock-up. What’s more, the new Car of Tomorrow engine, the R07, became the new power plant for all teams using Chevrolet engines. IT replaced the old standard SB2, the small-block Chevrolet motor that NASCAR has used since the mid-1950s.   

PLM software is particularly useful for manufacturers launching a new product, such as a new engine and chassis for an automobile. For instance, the electric car startup Tesla Motors is using Dassault Systemes’ CATIA PLM Express system for product development. Manufacturers use PLM for product design, engineering changes, bill of materials management, and overall tracking of product from conception to recycling.  

A key benefit of the PLM for Hendrick was the ability to guarantee its drivers that every engine its mechanics rebuilt each week was almost identical in output. Says Wall, “We have about a 1 percent performance variation, and our goal, which I think we are getting pretty close to, is to get it down to half a percent variation, which is about plus or minus 4 horsepower.”  

That sounds like the kind of performance Dale Jr. can depend on.

This article was originally published on 2008-02-06
Doug Bartholomew is a career journalist who has covered information technology for more than 15 years. A former senior editor at IndustryWeek and InformationWeek, his freelance features have appeared in New York magazine and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. He has a B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University.
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